By: Jeremy Park and Ben Hoyt
The undefeated Garnet Valley Jaguars head into the District 1 playoffs with a championship in their sights. It’s been a dominant season for coach Mike Ricci and what people are calling the greatest team assembled in school history, with most games ending in blowout wins. However, the playoffs bring a different level of energy and competition to stadiums, so fans might be treated to seeing the Jags’ starters playing a little more than just the first 24 minutes.
Let’s reflect on the last 10 weeks that have led up to this point. The season-opener, a 41-7 upset win away at Downingtown West sent a message to all teams, media, and fans for what was to come. Although running back Shane Reynolds would injure his ankle to be sidelined for 5 games, he still put up great numbers. In 5 games, all of which he was only playing the first half, he rushed for 406 yards and 6 touchdowns, averaging 12 yards a carry. Even in his 5-week absence, junior Jay Bernard and senior Ryan Saunders made up for his production. Bernard led the team this season in total rushing yards (481, 48.1 ypg), and Saunders led the team in touchdowns and total points scored (18, 114). Formerly known for being a run-only offense, record-setting passes were thrown by Max Busenkell, those being the most touchdown passes in a game (4- done in one half), and most touchdown passes in a season (21 and counting). His favorite target? Sean Gallagher, who also set wide receiver records this season, those being the most touchdown receptions in a game (4- done in one half) and in a season (11 and counting). The offensive line (Sam DiTrolio, Ben Nash, Austin Sorokanych, Nick Mahoney, Nolan Brennan) have given Busenkell the best blocking a quarterback could ask for, giving him plenty of space and time to throw. The Jags put up a total of 489 points, for an average of 49 a game.
Garnet Valley took home their 4th-straight Central League title this year, featuring wins over Conestoga, Marple Newtown, Upper Darby, Strath Haven, Ridley, Radnor, Haverford, Springfield, and Lower Merion. As they head into the District 1 playoffs (see below for Ben Hoyt’s segment), I got to ask Coach Ricci some questions after the homecoming game (a win against Lower Merion) about this season.
Q: Who or what do you want to credit for the team’s success this year?
Coach: I credit all the players and all the assistant coaches. We have a phenomenal group of senior leaders, we have a great group of underclassmen who put in the time to follow those seniors, and we have the best assistant coaching staff in the state of Pennsylvania. We’re oneness, and it takes input from everybody in order for us to succeed and we’ve had that.
Q: How are you and your team preparing mentally for the inevitable rise in competition?
Coach: We’re preparing exactly how we have been, we don’t change anything even for the playoffs. We don’t focus on the other team, we just focus on us, we focus on our execution, and wanting to become the best team we’re capable of becoming.
Q: How do you want this particular team to be remembered in years to come no matter how your season might end?
Coach: The way we want our team to be remembered? Our goal is to be the best team we’re capable of becoming, and we’re not there yet, we’re working hard to get there, I want this team to be remembered as a group of seniors that set an example of what oneness is all about, a group of seniors who put the time and the effort in during the offseason so that they could put themselves in a position to be the best team they’re capable of becoming, and a team that really loved one another, got along with one another, and did everything they could to help one another.
Q: How have you and your team adapted to adversity this season, like Shane and Jay’s injuries?
Coach: Our mindset is always “Next man up” and we prepare in practice so that if somebody does go down, we always have somebody. One of the crushing blows in the beginning of the season was the loss of Matt Collins. Chris Read hurt his knee, Shane Reynolds was out with an ankle injury, Will Snyder, we’ve had some guys who have been banged up and I’ve been really proud of the way the other guys have stepped in and filled in for them in their absence.
Q: What have you enjoyed most about the last 10 weeks with your team?
Coach: I just love being out here with these guys every day, I love the approach that they have, I love the fact that they love each other, I love the fact that they would do anything for each other, I love their selfless approach, I just love everything there is about them.
Q: We’re all wondering who the next coach of Garnet Valley is going to be. I’m not gonna ask for any spoilers but what advice would you give to your successor?
Coach: Whoever my successor is going to be, it’s going to be from our staff, we’re not sure who it’s going to be yet, but they’re going to not only carry on the tradition that’s been established before them, but they’re going to do everything they can to make it better, and I have no doubt that they will.
Garnet Valley Playoff Preview
As the regular season wraps up this week, the PIAA District 1 playoff bracket still has a lot of stuff to be worked out. The 1 seed is still up for grabs between Garnet Valley and North Penn. Garnet Valley will get the one seed if Garnet Valley beats Lower Merion this week and one of their past opponents wins. For example, if Garnet Valley wins and Springfield beats Penncrest, Garnet Valley would win in the 5th tiebreaker against North Penn. If two other past opponents win, examples being Springfield and Haverford beating Palumbo, Garnet Valley would also win the one seed that way. The only way that North Penn would win the one seed is if Garnet Valley loses or Garnet Valley wins but no other Garnet Valley past opponents win, which is an unlikely scenario but always a possibility. Most likely if Garnet Valley wins and Haverford beats Palumbo, Garnet Valley would have a rematch with Haverford at the Moe next Friday.